Changes made to Safe Clear program

HOUSTON Safe Clear has gained a lot of fans ever since it was introduced nearly six years ago. But just how necessary has it become? That's the question city leaders are posing as they look for ways to save money, making decisions that could affect your commute.

The bottom line is that Safe Clear will continue to operate. However, some moves are being made to save the city money on its share.

When the fiscal year ends, more than 66,000 cars broken down on or beside Houston freeways will have been towed by Safe Clear wreckers.

One of them will have been an old pickup pulled over in the emergency lane as it gave up on the ghost on I-10. Its owner couldn't be more grateful for a quick, free tow to a nearby parking lot.

"You feel the freeway rocking and cars zooming by you," said stranded driver Alex Stepanski. "It's kind of like a roller-coaster ride that you don't want to be on."

Safe Clear has logged several hundred thousand tows in its five-year history in Houston. Cars stuck in moving lanes of traffic are charged for removal. Over time the program has helped clear traffic, cut down on delays from stalled cars. It's so popular now that it's operating in the red.

Houston City Councilmember Al Hoang explained, "It will pose a burden on the city and that's the reason why this program is bankrupted."

The program operates with mobility funds and can only be used for mobility. But 14 HPD officers are stationed at Transtar to approve Safe Clear tows. That cost totals $1.4 million. The plan is for HPD to remove its employees and hand those duties over to METRO police. The Safe Clear operators have made their own concessions.

"We've agreed to cap whatever we get paid to the $2.889 million," said Jeanette Rash with the Safe Clear Management Group.

That's how much money the mobility funds bring in every year, and it means Safe Clear could begin operating in the black in another year.

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